Neuroprotective exendin-4 enhances hypothermia therapy in a model of hypoxic-ischaemic encephalopathy.
Brain. 2018 10 1 ;141(10):2925-2942. PMID: 30165597
Hypoxic-ischaemic encephalopathy remains a global health burden. Despite medical advances and treatment with therapeutic hypothermia, over 50% of cooled infants are not protected and still develop lifelong neurodisabilities, including cerebral palsy. Furthermore, hypothermia is not used in preterm cases or low resource settings. Alternatives or adjunct therapies are urgently needed. Exendin-4 is a drug used to treat type 2 diabetes mellitus that has also demonstrated neuroprotective properties, and is currently being tested in clinical trials for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Therefore, we hypothesized a neuroprotective effect for exendin-4 in neonatal neurodisorders, particularly in the treatment of neonatal hypoxic-ischaemic encephalopathy. Initially, we confirmed that the glucagon like peptide 1 receptor (GLP1R) was expressed in the human neonatal brain and in murine neurons at postnatal Day 7 (human equivalent late preterm) and postnatal Day 10 (term). Using a well characterized mouse model of neonatal hypoxic-ischaemic brain injury, we investigated the potential neuroprotective effect of exendin-4 in both postnatal Day 7 and 10 mice. An optimal exendin-4 treatment dosing regimen was identified, where four high doses (0.5µg/g) starting at 0 h, then at 12 h, 24 h and 36 h after postnatal Day 7 hypoxic-ischaemic insult resulted in significant brain neuroprotection. Furthermore, neuroprotection was sustained even when treatment using exendin-4 was delayed by 2 h post hypoxic-ischaemic brain injury. This protective effect was observed in various histopathological markers: tissue infarction, cell death, astrogliosis, microglial and endothelial activation. Blood glucose levels were not altered by high dose exendin-4 administration when compared to controls. Exendin-4 administration did not result in adverse organ histopathology (haematoxylin and eosin) or inflammation (CD68). Despite initial reduced weight gain, animals restored weight gain following end of treatment. Overall high dose exendin-4 administration was well tolerated. To mimic the clinical scenario, postnatal Day 10 mice underwent exendin-4 and therapeutic hypothermia treatment, either alone or in combination, and brain tissue loss was assessed after 1 week. Exendin-4 treatment resulted in significant neuroprotection alone, and enhanced the cerebroprotective effect of therapeutic hypothermia. In summary, the safety and tolerance of high doseexendin-4 administrations, combined with its neuroprotective effect alone or in conjunction with clinically relevant hypothermia make the repurposing of exendin-4 for the treatment of neonatal hypoxic-ischaemic encephalopathy particularly promising.